5th August Journal Column

Web-LogoBy Catriona Lingwood, Chief Executive of Constructing Excellence in the North East

We might have gotten off to a slow start compared to other industries in the digital revolution, but it’s fair to say we’ve definitely caught up. Technology and modern tools have helped speed up and improve the construction process, and although the need for manual labour has always remained constant, these modern advances could mean that’s all about to change.

The building site of the future is going to look very different to what we are all used to seeing today. Instead of hundreds of men in hard hats and work boots, there are going to be drones, robotic bulldozers and 3D printers rolling out new structures.

There are now apps, programmes and even robots that can do everything from carry out minimal tasks to building houses with very little human interaction. Automated robots are being used to construct beams, lay bricks, drill, dig, paint and perform almost any task required to build structures.

Technology is about to get cranked up a gear as the Construction Industry Training Board has been given the go ahead to train five members of staff to fly drones to the Civil Aviation Authority standard.

Spending the day flying a remote controlled aircraft might sound like a hobby, or something to do on your day off, but it could soon be just another ‘day in the office’.

Could we soon see the end of working life as we know it? Is the robotic revolution coming, and does it have the potential to significantly change the industry? Here’s hoping, because the robotic revolution is set to improve project times and reduce the risk of health and safety – which is what we’ve all wanted for a long time!

The roofers will be trained to use drones to carry out surveys and find faults, rather than getting up on the roof themselves to carry out these tasks, massively reducing the risks of working at a height.

Research has shown that approximately 10 per cent of manufacturing tasks are currently carried out by machines, with the number predicted to rise to 25 per cent by 2025 if pilot schemes like this are rolled across the industry.

Machines get smarter and more capable each year, which scares a lot of people, but with the industry tackling huge projects and housing shortages over the next few years, we’re going to need all the help we can get.

Contractors will need to consider how technology can make a difference to project budgets and timescales, and with drones having the potential to make construction faster, more cost-effective and most importantly, safer, they could be the answer to all of our problems.

29th July Journal Column

Web-LogoBy Catriona Lingwood, Chief Executive of Constructing Excellence in the North East

LEGO has always been used by architecture and construction professionals as a means of getting children into our industry, and although it is still massively popular – the 300,000 brick LEGO model of Durham Cathedral was completed just this week, there are now other cool game and programmes available.

The Charted Institute of Building (CIOB) has developed a four-part construction curriculum played within Minecraft – a game where players build things out of blocks, from the simplest of homes to the grandest of castles.

In basic terms, it is a game in which players become the architects of their own world, designing and then building whatever they want, down to the very last brick.

The game ensures gamers consider planning issues, health and safety risks, structural aspects, sustainability and cost when creating their own 3D world – everything we have to consider in real, everyday situations.

‘Craft your Future’ is a construction game aimed at children that takes place within the Minecraft game. It gives young people the chance to explore the methods and skills to become a construction manager, giving them an early introduction to a career in the industry, and with more than 400,000 UK construction workers set to retire between 2018 and 2023, it’s vital we attract children and form a new generation of construction professionals.

Research shows that school children, especially girls, can be turned off our industry very early in their lifetime. Yet, with research showing that the number of female gamers playing PlayStation and X-Box grew 70 per cent between 2011 and 2014 – this could be the perfect opportunity to counter that mind-set.

The success of the game relies on the creativity of the user, meaning it can be used for fun, by those who have an interest in the built environment and by educators as a learning tool.

Teachers that are already using Minecraft in the classroom have encouraged students to build representations of their school, working as a team to see who will build each aspect. It means they have to leave the classroom, measure and work out which materials they need to use – it requires collaboration and a bunch of different skills, including maths, art and design.

Over the last few years the industry has really stepped up its game in terms of digital and technology, and Minecraft is a perfect combination of the two. The game closely aligns to aspects of the Building Information Model (BIM) process, highlighting the emerging role of technology in the industry.

There are 70 million people around the world playing Minecraft, that’s 70 million people, whether they realise it or not, developing skills in team work, communication and mathematics – skills that the industry is crying out for. It really does have the potential to inspire, attract and be the making of new industry professionals.

CIC NE 2016 Wonder Challenge for Schools

hhBy John Nielsen, Chair of the Construction Industry Council North East.

The Construction Industry Council (CICNE) and Constructing Excellence (CENE) held the finals last week, for the 2016 Sustainable Housing Scheme Wonder Challenge for school children in years 9 and 10 in the North East of England at the University of Northumbria.

The project involved a number of schools throughout the region, each of which has put forward a group of 13 and 14-year-old students who acted as a construction team, from conception to completion, for their project. Each team set up a company which will undertook the design and construction roles to build a sustainable housing scheme in their neighbourhood. The three finalists came from Nunthorpe Academy, St Anthony’s Catholic Girls Academy and Joseph Swan Academy.

This highly successful challenge has been running with CICNE and CENE involvement for five years. The winner this year was Joseph Swan Academy who had located a local site researching all infrastructure required, and developed student accommodation, family homes, community centre and local amenities. They had also progressed the project utilising inclusive design, sustainable materials and modular buildings.

The event was sponsored by NCBF (Northern Counties Builders Federation) whose representative Neil Ramsey presented cheques to each school and vouchers for all student participants.

Speaking after the event John Nielsen said: “Today went extremely well with each team showing an in depth understanding of what was required and excellent presentational skills. A big ‘well done to all’! The winners had involved ‘inclusive design’ within their project as this was a part of their recently completed school and they considered this a good thing for all. Construction industry note – design can really influence for the better!

We will be undertaking this challenge again next year but with more defined links to the school curriculum.’

22nd July Journal Column

Web-LogoBy Catriona Lingwood, Chief Executive of Constructing Excellence in the North East

Most of us live and work in our own little bubble, it’s where we feel at home and most comfortable, but, thanks to new innovations, the expression will soon become reality.

An eco-friendly “bubble” building has been built in Newcastle, to be used as a permanent heated office space. The building is Newcastle university’s first building at Science Central, Newcastle’s innovation hub.

The building, called The Key, was constructed using similar technology to that used for the 2012 Olympic Stadium, using a lightweight triple skin fabric structure that is incredibly strong, like a soap bubble.

The building follows a similar principle to the bubbles children make where they pull soap to create huge, long shapes. A soap film will spread naturally between two spaces to cover the smallest achievable surface area. The shape is so strong, that as well as being extremely efficient in terms of minimal materials and space, it is also very resilient – sounds good to me!

We’re always looking for new innovative buildings and break throughs, and this could be exactly what we’ve been waiting for. The facility will be iconic, and will definitely get people talking all around the country – how exciting that the North East is the first place to have a building of this kind?

Science Central is Newcastle’s £350 million flagship project bringing together academia, the public sector, communities, business and industry to create a global centre for urban innovation right here on our doorsteps. It is one of the country’s biggest urban regeneration projects and a ‘living laboratory’, as well as an urban observatory and decision theatre, allowing real time data from the city to be analysed.

Although the inside of the building will be used for teaching and learning, its benefits stretch further than the building itself. The actual structure of the building can be used for teaching, as it presented technical challenges around heating, lighting and insulation itself. The roof is supported by a 10m-high tri-star mast to maximise natural light levels and reduce energy use through passive ventilation.

The fabric used has been designed to have as little impact on the environment as possible. The fabric used is similar to the roof of the 2012 Olympic Stadium, it acts as both cladding and support and is extremely light, meaning heavy materials which have a high carbon footprint, such as steel, are kept to a minimum. The building can also be easily dismantled and relocated to a different site should it be needed somewhere else.

Easily relocated, strong, light and efficient in terms of materials and size? That’s everything ticked off my checklist of the perfect building. I’m looking forward to seeing more of these appear around the country, and also extremely proud the North East were the first to trial something so impressive.

15th July Journal Column

Web-LogoBy Catriona Lingwood, Chief Executive of Constructing Excellence in the North East

To children and people outside of the industry, construction sites might look like huge adventure playgrounds, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. There’s the obvious dangers that most people are aware of, but there are many more unseen dangers that those not in the industry wouldn’t even consider.

According to statistics from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) the number of workers killed whilst at work in the UK construction industry rose by almost 23 per cent last year. The new figures show that between 2015-2016, 43 workers died onsite, compared to 35 deaths the year before. The death rate dropped slightly the year before to 1.94 per 100,000 workers, compared to a five-year average of 2.04, but the increase in deaths from last year brings the fatalities back to the five-year average.

The HSE statistics show 144 people were killed at work across all industries, and over one third of those deaths happen in construction. Britain might have one of the best health and safety systems in the world, but when there are still so many deaths each year, there’s still room for improvement. When it comes to health and safety you can never stop improving. One death is a death too many in my eyes.

Construction companies as a whole have been hit with almost £8m in health and safety fines since new penalties came into force at the start of the year. Statistics found that out of 101 health and safety fines issued in UK courts, 38 per cent affected those in our industry.

Fines are now proportional to the size of the company, meaning that both small and large businesses will feel the same impact. Fines are expected to stay high for larger firms that are charged with serious offences so businesses have another incentive (if an incentive was ever needed) to work harder to avoid incidents.

The three highest fines issued last year in construction totalled £5.6m, all of which involved fatalities of either staff or customers. It’s just not worth risking people’s lives and the reputation of your company.

There are worldwide campaigns promoting safe, health and decent work, so there’s really no excuse to not have something in place promoting health and safety at work. But, if not that’s not enough, the shocking statistics above show that there’s still a lot of work to be done.  I know that accidents do happen, but there are a number of ways to prevent them and measures that can easily be put in place, we just all need to make sure we’re doing everything we possibly can be.


8th July Journal Column

Web-LogoBy Catriona Lingwood, Chief Executive of Constructing Excellence in the North East

Last week the industry celebrated Rail Week and it was the perfect opportunity to show young people, parents and teachers the facilities and range of jobs the rail industry offers.

Rail Week was created by Young Rail Professionals (YRP) to show first hand that the rail sector is a great place to work-what better way to inspire young people to consider a career in the industry than by talking to people who have been there and done just that.

Throughout the week the rail sector opened its doors to the community, showcasing projects and giving insight into what it’s like to work in the industry. There was tours of depots and factories, lectures and seminars as well as volunteer staff promoting rail around schools.

In the North East alone there was a range of 10 projects to choose from, with schools, the Tyne and Wear Metro control station and Hitachi Europe opening their doors to the public.

There has never been a better time to join the rail industry, there’s a lot still to come and luckily for us it should be coming in the next five years. More than £25 billion will be invested in the UK’s rail network, but whilst most of that will be spent on High Speed 2 (HS2) and Crossrail, there is still innovation taking place across the network.

This investment is so important for the industry, the UK rail network is the fastest growing in Europe and they’re now carrying twice as many passengers as 20 years ago. From Wales to the North East, investment is accelerating as the UK’s regions look at cheaper, more flexible solutions capable of carrying more passengers. The future is undecided, particularly for the industry, but Britain coming out of the EU could work in our favour. Politicians, granted they don’t always stick to their word, claim that freedom from the EU means the government will be able to spend more of our own money, which can be applied to regional development funds – more money for the North East to support regional economies? They certainly have my attention!

Events such as Rail Week show that, although the industry is divided by regions, we’re all working together to achieve the one giant goal. It’s great to see companies from across the country encouraging young people into rail – it’s that type of commitment and enthusiasm that we need, after all it’s all we’ve got to go off until we find out what’s instore for us following Brexit.

1st July Journal Column

Web-LogoBy Catriona Lingwood, Chief Executive of Constructing Excellence in the North East

Britain’s decision to leave the EU is already the most talked about subject of the year, and it’s only been one week since the news broke, but who can blame us, it’s going to change our future, whether it be for good or bad.

I understand the fear of uncertainty has taken over, but for our industry it’s important we stay positive. We’ve faced many challenges over recent years, granted this is probably the biggest one to date, but it’s just another challenge for us to overcome together, and I have faith that we will do just that. For me, Brexit is more of an opportunity than a problem for construction.

There’s nothing to fear just yet. It’s going to take several years before the implications of leaving the EU are clear. What will affect us immediately is reluctance from the government to give the go-ahead on major infrastructure projects, so for now we’re going to have to be patient and accept that stalled projects aren’t going to be picked up any time soon. But it would be silly for us to jump straight into new projects during this period of uncertainty, we need to ensure we have stability now, to have a successful outcome in the long term when changes take place.

Another thing that could be affected is the construction of new homes, with Brexit having mixed effects for the home building industry. A huge benefit will be the removal of red tape from EU regulation which is often the reason for hold ups, which will please many new home builders. I feel like there should be a but or the opposite side of the coin here, maybe it’s just me?

For decades the industry has relied on migrant workers from Europe, and if we are to meet the new homes objectives, then the government need to ensure that the new immigration system can contribute to the needs of the industry.

However, this could be the push the industry has needed to train more construction apprentices. It’s time to invest in our home-grown talent, rather than heavily relying on migrant workers from Europe, especially given that nobody knows what position we’ll be in a few months/years down the line.

Although we’ve lost our place inside the EU, there’s nothing stopping us from working together. The industry is largely dependent on EU companies in Ireland, France, Germany and Spain, and although we have asked for freedom from the EU in many areas, there’s no reason for us to be isolated, as both individuals and as a nation, we work better together.

One thing that is certain is that we’re going to face a number of challenges as the impact of Brexit unfolds, and although we’re uncertain of the outcome, the best way to tackle them is by working together – let’s build bridges, not walls!

24th June Journal Column

By Pete Tighe, Director at NCT SKILLS FOR LIFE

It’s common knowledge that our industry needs 230,000 new workers by 2020, and with fewer graduates coming into the sector and even fewer school leavers considering roles in the industry, the recruitment of military service leavers should be given serious consideration.

According to the Charted Institute of Building (CIOB), around 20,000 people leave the military every year and the majority of them will possess the skills and background needed to have a successful career in construction.

Those in the army have high management and problem solving skills, a great work ethos and team working skills better than most people. Sure, they don’t always have the qualifications, but the construction industry should consider the merits of attitudes and reskilling potential rather than attained technical skill.

The army teaches people highly transferrable skills, and produces committed, highly trained people that I think can easily be moved into the construction industry and be beneficial to construction, and when you have people who possess such important skills, it would be silly to rule them out because of a lack of qualifications.

As people around the country prepare to support Armed Forces Day tomorrow (25 June), we’re being made aware of more and more initiatives which are running to raise awareness of construction careers among the armed forces.

We work in a people-based industry, what we need are leaders and those who possess highly transferrable skills.

The Joint Enterprise Forces –Construction Employability Pathway (JEF–CEP) is a North East campaign, which trains young people and gives them Armed Forces experience at the start of their career to help as they progress with their onward pathway in the construction industry.

The JEF-CEP program is a 12-week programme, which includes 4 weeks of Armed Forces exposure and 8 weeks of construction skills training meaning graduates of the JEF-CEP program get the best of both worlds, Armed Forces led soft skill development and a Level 1 Certificate in Multitrade Construction Activities.

The programme is a solution to many of the problems we’ve faced in the past; getting young people into the industry, solving the job shortage, and finding people that have the skills needed to progress within the industry.

I encourage companies within the industry, whether large or small, to take on apprentices from initiatives like JEF-CEP, they really are helping you kill three (or more) birds, with one very big, and very clever stone.

17th June Journal Column

Web-LogoBy Catriona Lingwood, Chief Executive of Constructing Excellence in the North East

I’ve always been a real advocate for welcoming more women into our industry and I jump at the chance to celebrate and support women in construction. Which is why, when days dedicated to just that come around, I think it’s extremely important everyone gets involved.

National Women in Engineering Day (NWED), which takes place next Thursday, highlights the opportunities available for women in engineering. The event takes place every year on 23 June and aims to raise the profile of women in engineering across the world. It’s your chance to get involved with this year’s theme of #RaisingProfiles by sharing stories about successful women within industry.

There’s always disputes about diversity in the industry, mainly around gender imbalance. We’ve always struggled with the growing gender gap, but recent statistics show the imbalance goes far beyond the number of people working in the industry. The gender gap at universities, even at admissions stage, is growing. Whilst women show more of an interest into going into higher education at a young age and are more likely to attend university, they aren’t studying STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) subjects, which will result in them working in our industry.

We attended a debate recently questioning whether the industry has and implements the policies to best achieve diversity. The panel included representatives from across the North East civil engineering industry as well as guests from outside the industry who wanted to share their opinions on the topic. Among the panellists, was our Generation4Change (G4C) chair, Natalie Keyes, who delivered her opinion on equality, gender, race and religion. It was great to hear the opinion from both a young person and female who is up and coming in her field.

UCAS statistics show that females only make up 17.4 per cent of applicants to engineering courses, and a third of women are ‘put off’ careers in STEM because they think they’re too male dominated – which is ironic because they wouldn’t be if more women would just take the leap into STEM subjects.

I can’t stress the importance of supporting young people, encouraging them to pursue their passion and find a career that is right for them. The industry is in high demand of skilled engineers to address the shortfall we’re expecting over the next ten years. Encouraging women into engineering careers will increase diversity and inclusion, and fill skills shortages – it will just be a bonus if some of them were women. We need to look to the future, and realise that it lies with the youth of today, and it includes more women!

10th June Journal Column

Web-LogoBy Catriona Lingwood, Chief Executive of Constructing Excellence in the North East

As you read this, final preparations are being put to Open Doors events all across the country. Last year, the event only lasted two days, but this year it’s offering a week of opportunities to see behind the scenes on construction sites.

The event, which takes place next week (Monday 13 June – Saturday 18 June), allows people to discover how building and structures are constructed and find out about the range of skills and professions needed on site. It welcomes everyone from civil engineers, bricklayers, front of house sales managers and future architects to visitors of all ages and skill sets.

Not only does the week give insight into how construction sites work, but it also provides the opportunity to learn about how to start a career in construction.

With events like this, we tend to assume that the most interesting sites will be based down South somewhere that isn’t easy for people from the North to access, yet, this year, that’s not the case. Here in the North East, there are five big sites and projects to choose from. Morgan Sindell are opening up their improvement scheme on the A1 Leeming to Barton. They are offering the chance to see behind the-scenes both on site and in the office, as well as discussing the different career options that the industry can offer (probably in the hope that once we see the scale of what’s going on, we’ll be a little more conscientious when complaining about the roadworks we all have to sit through-but I’m sure it will all be worth it in the end when the commute to and from London is much easier).

Both East Durham College, Houghall Campus and the Ogden Centre for Fundamental Physics are giving visitors the chance to see the construction of new buildings, buildings which are certain to have an impact on the North East, so it will be amazing to be able to say you witnessed some of them being built!

Opening up these particular sites not only demystifies the sometimes frustrating construction process for the general public, it also excites them about what our industry can achieve and proves that the North East can proudly take its place in the national construction race.

Events like this are the perfect opportunity for those contemplating a career in the industry and it means we get to show off exactly what we have to offer. I think things like this have a much bigger impact than just reading about what we do on paper, as people get a chance to see first-hand what it’s like to work in the industry and see something that we’re already aware of – what a rewarding career construction can be.